Wednesday, November 18, 2015

africa: america's laboratory for a new kind of war



tomdispatch | In the shadows of what was once called the “dark continent," a scramble has come and gone. If you heard nothing about it, that was by design. But look hard enough and -- north to south, east to west -- you’ll find the fruits of that effort: a network of bases, compounds, and other sites whose sum total exceeds the number of nations on the continent. For a military that has stumbled from Iraq to Afghanistan and suffered setbacks from Libya to Syria, it’s a rare can-do triumph. In remote locales, behind fences and beyond the gaze of prying eyes, the U.S. military has built an extensive archipelago of African outposts, transforming the continent, experts say, into a laboratory for a new kind of war.

So how many U.S. military bases are there in Africa?  It’s a simple question with a simple answer.  For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) gave astock response: one. Camp Lemonnier in the tiny, sun-bleached nation of Djibouti was America’s only acknowledged “base” on the continent.  It wasn’t true, of course, because there were camps, compounds, installations, and facilities elsewhere, but the military leaned hard on semantics.

Take a look at the Pentagon’s official list of bases, however, and the number grows.  The 2015 report on the Department of Defense’s global property portfolio lists Camp Lemonnier and three other deep-rooted sites on or near the continent: U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3, a medical research facility in Cairo, Egypt, that was established in 1946; Ascension Auxiliary Airfield, a spacecraft tracking station and airfield located 1,000 miles off the coast of West Africa that has been used by the U.S. since 1957; and warehouses at the airport and seaport in Mombasa, Kenya, that were built in the 1980s.

That’s only the beginning, not the end of the matter.  For years, variousreporters have shed light on hush-hush outposts -- most of them built, upgraded, or expanded since 9/11 -- dotting the continent, including so-calledcooperative security locations (CSLs).  Earlier this year, AFRICOM commander General David Rodriguez disclosed that there were actually 11 such sites.  Again, devoted AFRICOM-watchers knew that this, too, was just the start of a larger story, but when I asked Africa Command for a list of bases, camps and other sites, as I periodically have done, I was treated like a sap.

“In all, AFRICOM has access to 11 CSLs across Africa. Of course, we have one major military facility on the continent: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti,” Anthony Falvo, AFRICOM’s Public Affairs chief, told me.  Falvo was peddling numbers that both he and I know perfectly well are, at best, misleading.  “It’s one of the most troubling aspects of our military policy in Africa, and overseas generally, that the military can’t be, and seems totally resistant to being, honest and transparent about what it’s doing,” says David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.

Research by TomDispatch indicates that in recent years the U.S. military has, in fact, developed a remarkably extensive network of more than 60 outposts and access points in Africa.  Some are currently being utilized, some are held in reserve, and some may be shuttered.  These bases, camps, compounds, port facilities, fuel bunkers, and other sites can be found in at least 34 countries -- more than 60% of the nations on the continent -- many of them corrupt,repressive states with poor human rights records.  The U.S. also operates “Offices of Security Cooperation and Defense Attaché Offices in approximately 38 [African] nations,” according to Falvo, and has struck close to 30 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers.